Afghanistan and Pain-2-Power

The horrible outcome in Afghanistan leaves America severely wounded in terms of its stature and leaves tens of thousands of Americans and Afghanis who worked with America at risk of death.  We abandoned our post, abandoned our friends and set the stage for mass killing and the repression of ,many millions of people.  What’s more, we dishonored the heroic work of the US military in Afghanistan and to the heroic work of the US military in stopping al Qaeda and ISIS (which nested in Afghanistan).

It isn’t just those in the military who served since 9/11 who will be impacted psychologically by our Saigon-like retreat from Kabul.  It is tens of millions of other veterans who know only too well that the selfless work they have done for our nation here and in so many distant lands has not always been honored by their own nation.  Several of them have emailed me and called me over the past few days asking me to write something about what is happening.

How could the President of the United States and his team orchestrate such a series of blunders as to script our leaving Afghanistan without pride, without showing loyalty to those Afghans who served alongside us and without sustaining gains in liberty for that nation?

Do we need any other enduring image of our failure than the fact that human remains were found in the wheel wells of a C-17 US cargo plane that was rushed by terrified Afghanis seeking safe passage out of their country?  Hundreds made it inside.  But some clearly decided to try their luck flying to freedom by hiding in those wheel wells, only to die there, crushed.  Such is the symbol of what it means to stand with America for freedom and expect America to stand with you.

And that image won’t be the last seared into the minds of Americans who care about people around the world.  If they aren’t censored (and they shouldn’t be) we will be seeing lots of images of wholesale slaughter.

Can this much pain be turned into power?  The short answer is, “Yes, of course.”  This pain, this evidence of the shortcomings of American leadership, this clear demonstration of something lacking in the character of our government, will lead outraged patriots to, ultimately, demand better and do better.  These steps taken back toward fear and cowardice and complicity with evil will lead to a greater number of steps back in the direction of courage and liberty.

Not until we have seen what we have become can we be something else.  Something better.  Something truer.  Something stronger.  And, so, we need only keep our eyes open to the scenes unfolding before us, in order to set the stage for better leadership, greater gains in liberty and winning freedom for more and more human beings.

Those who say that America cannot be the police force for the world had better take a long, hard look at Afghanistan over the next several months.  Who else than the sons and daughters of liberty will be that police force?

Right now, there are young men and women whose pain at our nation falling to its knees before barbarians will be turned into powerful resolve to lead us forward toward the light.  And I would say this to those hoards intent on demonstrating the darkness in their souls:  Mind you that Americans always turn pain into power.  We do not sleep forever.  You will rule for the day and awaken our resolve to defeat you for all time.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: THE PAIN-2-POWER PERSON OF THE WEEK (KEEP READING)

Andrew Cuomo has announced he will resign August 24 as Governor of New York amidst claims that he sexually harassed numerous women who worked for him and sexually assaulted at least one of them.  He will leave office and, perhaps, face criminal charges, after inheriting a political dynasty from his father, New York Governor Mario Cuomo.  The elder Cuomo, of course, was a man of extraordinary oratory skills who captivated the nation with his brilliant speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention and famously had a jet ready on a runway, waiting to take him to announce his candidacy for President of the United States.  For reasons that remain unknown, the elder Cuomo never took that flight.

Andrew Cuomo stands accused of far more than sexual harassment or misdemeanor sexual assault.  Many accuse him of making the ill-fated decision to send elderly Covid patients back to their nursing homes, not only limiting their access to better medical care, but also then infecting others in the nursing homes, some of whom died.  Some say he made his decision to spite then-President Donald J. Trump, who had sent the USNS Comfort hospital ship to New York Harbor.

How can Governor Andrew Cuomo be the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week?  Keep reading.

Mr. Cuomo already had a reputation as a bully who trampled on people in his way, as he ascended to political power.  He wasn’t liked by many, many people on both sides of the political aisle.

Mr. Cuomo’s has also been accused of manipulating the MeToo and Time’s Up movements—endearing himself to them while making women who worked for him feel uncomfortable with his overly familiar words and his uninvited touching.

So, how can Governor Cuomo be the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week?  First of all, it’s because he’s got to be in a world of pain right now.  Secondly, it’s because I would tell him that, with everything being said about him and with all the mistakes he has made, even if those include letting politics and ego dictate public healthcare policy that ended up costing people their lives, that it is incumbent upon him to distill power from all the pain he is experiencing and even from the pain he may have visited upon others.  It is his responsibility as a human being to find the most productive way to redeem himself as a human being possessed of no small measure of intelligence and no small measure of charisma and no small measure of political skill.  I have chosen Andrew Cuomo as the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week to call upon him to not shy away from this challenge—perhaps the greatest of his lifetime.

Today, Governor Cuomo knows far more about many things than he did, say, three months ago, when he was the darling of liberal media outlets and the Left, in general.  He knows what it is to be derided, to be described as a monster, to be spoken of as responsible for many deaths.  He knows what it is to have to sit with his daughters and talk about accusations that he is a sexual predator.  He knows what it is to have his brother Chris’ career as a television anchor at CNN stained by association with him.

I don’t know exactly how Governor Cuomo ought to proceed to turn his pain into power, yet I know it is possible.  I know that the worse the pain, the greater the power can be.  I know that it will not be easy to accomplish that alchemy, and I also know that the difficulty only means it is more important to make it happen.

Standing accused of putting politics ahead of public health, Governor Cuomo could announce the Cuomo Quest to End Cancer and use his notoriety to raise money to endow that effort.  Standing accused of bullying and other insensitivities and indiscretions (and, yes, more than that) he could announce his determination to create the Cuomo Center for Compassionate Communication and seek to understand why our nation and the world has descended into such polarized recriminations between young and old, black and white, male and female, Republican and Democrat.

Shut out, perhaps forever, from elective office, he might decide to found Cuomo Capital Partners and raise funds to fuel the growth of third-world nations.

Of course, Governor Cuomo would be pilloried by much of the press for his attempt to contribute to our world.  Of course, there would be innumerable cynics.  That’s part of the inevitable pain of the moment at which he finds himself.  But that pain can also be the fuel for an equal and opposite amount of power to do good in this world.  And I, for one, am telling Governor Cuomo to get on with the work of burning that fuel.  Today.

See, I don’t think there is anyone in this world or that there ever has been anyone in this world who is beyond redemption.  And if Andrew Cuomo agrees (and he should), then he has no time to waste.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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SANCHO PANZA AND THE REST OF US

There’s part of the musical version of Don Quixote, the Spanish novel authored in the early 1600s by Miguel de Cervantes, that I occasionally find myself reminding people about.  Don Quixote is, of course, the nobleman from La Mancha who reads so many romances involving chivalry that he comes to believe that he must revive chivalry in Spain.  He recruits a farmer named Sancho Panza as his sidekick or squire and sets off on his quest.

Don Quixote has, of course, lost his mind.  Yet, Sancho Panza continues to follow him through a series of adventures or misadventures, including attacking a “monster” with his lance, when the “monster” is actually a windmill.

At one point in the tale, Sancho Panza is asked something like, “Why do you follow him?  Surely, you know he is mad.”  And Panza breaks into the song, I Really Like Him:

 

SANCHO
I like him, I really like him.
Tear out my fingernails one by one, I like him!
I don’t have a very good reason,
Since I’ve been with him,
Cuckoo-nuts have been in season…
But there’s nothing I can do,
Chop me up for onion stew,
Still I’ll yell to the sky
Though I can’t tell you why,
That I like him!

ALDONZA
It doesn’t make any sense!

SANCHO
That’s because you’re not a squire.

ALDONZA
All right, I’m not a squire. ] Now does a squire squire?

SANCHO
Well, I ride behind him… and he fights.
Then I pick him up off the ground, and…

ALDONZA
But, what do you get out of it?

SANCHO
What do I get? Oh! Why, already I’ve gotten…
I’ve gotten…

ALDONZA
You’ve got nothing! Why do you do it?

SANCHO
I like him, I really like him.

 

No one we embrace in our lives is perfect, and many of those whom we embrace are imperfect.  But if we like them—never mind, love them—then that is often enough of an explanation for standing with them, or helping them stand up, again.  The energy of those interpersonal bonds can’t be seen under a microscope, but, thank God, it surely exists.

Now, here’s a really important thing:  We are all Don Quixote, in lesser or greater measure.  And for each person who sticks with us, nonetheless, we are blessed.

One more thing—the most important thing of all:  We have to be our own Sancho Panzas.  We have to keep loving ourselves even with all our quirks, our insanities, our misadventures.  Because life is a journey, and we will all need to be not only one another’s squire, at some point, but also to squire ourselves forward from pain to power.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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American Depersonalization

Depersonalization is a psychiatric term that means having the sense that you are observing yourself from outside your body or that things around you are not real.  It is essentially the feeling of being a detached observer of oneself, and it is extremely painful.  People need to feel firmly rooted to a core identity, in order to not experience profound anxiety or depression or both.

America may be adrift in depersonalization at this moment in our history.  Our politics are so polarized, our boundaries so porous, our elections in so much doubt, our sense of manifest destiny to accomplish anything much so anemic that Americans, in wholesale fashion, risk being shaken loose of any true national identity and left to observe their nation and their own citizenship “from outside the body politic,” as though they are “not real.”  This can cause mass anxiety and mass depression and desperation.  The symptoms can be epidemic mental illness (which is present in America), epidemic suicide (which is present in America), epidemic drug addiction (which is present in America) and epidemic violence (which is present in America).

How did this happen?  I would argue that self-reflection as a nation tilted into self-reproach, then self-hatred, then hatred for one another.  We allowed ourselves to abide apologies for the personality of our country and the character of our country and the history of our country.  That then set loose an internal witch hunt for those groups—men, women, old, young, rich, poor, white, black, east coast, west coast—were the ones responsible for our supposed failures.

Without the momentum of communal pride and interpersonal good will as part of the fuel for the “patriotic personhood” of a country, national depersonalization can set in.  It has.  We are looking at America as though from outside America.  For many, many Americans—in the tens or hundreds of millions—national identity is no more.

Those who are citizens of America, but who no longer feel particularly American, and who don’t know what it would even mean to feel particularly American, are, arguably, now in the majority.  That is a perilous moment for a nation.  It threatens the nation with extinction.

What might be a way back?  Surely, an external threat can galvanize an internal sense of self.  Americans threatened with the loss of freedom from an external aggressor could remind us who we are.   Something even worse than the Covid pandemic could do it, as Americans would seek to tap into the huge creative, economic, scientific engines that comprise elements of our soul.  But who wants to be reminded we exist because of such suffering?

It would be better, of course, to re-visit and re-embrace American ideals by seeing external threats on the horizon long before we have to meet them head on and gearing up thrive, despite them.  Gearing up might look like an equivalent of the Manhattan Project, but targeting the destruction of newly-emerging viruses.  Gearing up might look like the recognition that we have enemies on the face of the earth who want to do away with our national identity, in order to attempt to forcibly impose their own.  It might look like wrestling, in earnest, with the epidemics of depression and drugs and violence in our country and committing to truly turning them around.

From this pain, we can and we must, realize—once, again—our power.  The alternative is darkness we have met with before, but should not need to meet again.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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Marcus Ericsson: Pain-2-Power Person of the Week

Marcus Ericsson is the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week for maintaining calm under pressure and not quitting.  He won the inaugural Nashville Indycar Music City Grand Prix, but not before crashing his car, going airborne, having the front wing fly off the vehicle and making the crowd surely believe he had to be done with the race, if not done with racing.  He himself worried the car might snap in half.

But Marcus Ericsson never stopped.  Sure, we wouldn’t and couldn’t blame him had he worried about the roadworthiness of the vehicle racing through the perilous Nashville streets and pulled over to call it a day.  We wouldn’t and couldn’t blame him if he felt glad just to have survived the crash, the mid-air moments and the potentially back-breaking impact of landing.  But, instead, Marcus Ericsson persisted, in the face of adversity, in the face of worry, in the face of pain and powered on to win the race—not just finish it, but win it.  And in so doing, he delivered all of us an inspirational story to fuel our own journeys to the finish line.

See, sports matter to me not because I care which team wins (although I understand why some people do), but because they can be a metaphor for almost unfathomable grit, grace, faith and perseverance. Think of Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary 63-yard pass into the end zone on November 23, 1984 to win the Orange Bowl for Boston College with no time left on the clock.

That pass happened to be caught by Boston College wide receiver Gerard Phelan, Flutie’s college roommate, leaving us to wonder whether anyone who knew Flutie less well, who didn’t communicate with him for hours every day, could possibly have leapt into the air, over the University of Miami defenders, to make the catch.

So Marcus Ericsson may have done what he was trained to do.  He may have done what was instinctive.  But he had to have decided, through some miraculous combination of character, skill and commitment, to keep on driving and to keep on trying to win.

We all find ourselves, at one time or another, where Marcus Ericsson found himself in the race called life.  We run into massive headwinds in our businesses.  We confront potentially “fatal” challenges to our relationships.  We have to deal with illnesses in ourselves or loved ones.  We face a pandemic.  We meet bullies.

But for one day, in one city in America, on one roadway, one man decided that crashing and even breaking into pieces and staring death in the face didn’t have to mean he stopped driving and didn’t mean he couldn’t win in the end.  And for anyone who saw that happen or hears of it happening, I hope they can channel its magic and truth and strive to turn pain into power.

 

Dr. Keith Ablow

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Drop the Mask

The playwright Martha Boesing said, “The question laid out for each of us is whether to hold on or drop the mask.”

What does that mean, really?  What is the mask is Boesing addressing?

I think that she means the mask that each of us dons over time—particuarly in childhood and adolescence and young adulthood—in response to myriad stresses and anxieties, but also in response to praise and rewards and “successes.”

Each of us is vulnerable to doing an ongoing calculus of how the world around us is responding to our core goals, passions, emotions, perspectives, appearance, choices, etc.  And we then can unconsciously edit ourSELVES to please others by taking fewer risks, not rocking the boat, abandoning some of our unique perspectives, opting to shelf our creative pursuits, making sure we keep quiet about our true opinions, growing a thick skin to not register injuries, even (in extreme cases) avoiding intimate relationships (whether friendships or romantic connections), altogether.

Of course, the greatest toll of donning a mask is that we then often avoid engaging in intimate relationships with ourSELVES.  We—who we really are—go underground and hide out, for fear of being misunderstood, judged, unlovable, exquisitely vulnerable and in pain.

That would be a profound enough loss, but the parts of ourselves we bury—the parts underground or behind the mask—don’t wait quietly to be discovered.  They want to exist.  They want to be known.  They struggle for air.  And keeping them from emerging causes anxiety and depression and sleeplessness and, certainly, all manner of physical infirmities, including autoimmune conditions, headaches, backaches, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, probably even cancer.

If we could only let go and let the masks drop, we could express ourSELVES and realize the potential gains of our core creative instincts and gifts, our inborn ability to love ourselves and others.  We could be more courageous in all things for having stopped running from the truth about one thing—who we truly are, absent all the unconscious camouflage—the masks.  We could resonate with the talents and struggles and triumphs and fears and passions of others because we would be in touch with our own.

How can we achieve this?  One way is by retracing our steps.  At some point in our journey through this life we encountered resistance.  If we can identify where and when and how that happened—often in very early chapters of our life stories—we can see that our masks materialized when we were far younger, far more vulnerable and far less able to decide whether to don them, or not.

We can then take small steps to remove our masks.  We can start telling the truth about our relationships and ourselves.  We can start pursuing goals we find truly worthy of our time and our hearts.  We can start embracing other people for their potential and finding synergy with the best of them.

Mind you, this process needn’t take years.  The road back to YOU, the process of dropping the mask, is a process of guided introspection.  It is also a process of gathering resolve.  It is a process of setting aside paper tigers from the past that inspire fear, but have no real claws.

Begin the journey.  You are worth it.  You always were.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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ALAN GROSS: THIS WEEK’S PAIN-2-POWER PERSON OF THE WEEK

Alan Gross is this week’s Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.  Mr. Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and charged with importing banned technology in order to create secret Internet services for Cuba’s Jewish community.  He spent five years in jail in Cuba.  He emigrated to Israel in 2017, but divides his time between there and the United States.

Acts of courage like that of Alan Gross, who was apparently willing to take a tremendous risk in order to promote the cause of freedom, are part and parcel of the Pain-2-Power Prescription.  Helping the truth to win isn’t without cost or pain, but it is the path to power—for the person who leads the way and those who follow.

I don’t know how many Cubans used any Internet services Mr. Gross allegedly provided, but the protests for freedom in Cuba would seem to testify to more information reaching the island.  And knowledge is power.

The United States and twenty other countries have now called on Cuba to stop mass arrests of protesters who have taken to the streets in an unprecedented display of defiance, despite police crackdowns and a shutdown of the Internet.  The protesters want what Alan Gross and other heroes have long wanted for them:  An end to the 62-year-old dictatorship that has stripped Cubans of their human rights.

Mr. Gross recently spoke out in defense of the protesters.  See, five years in prison didn’t shut him up.  See, you have to be careful trying to silence heroic people.  They don’t take well to it.

The United States should welcome Cubans fleeing tyranny, rather than warning them that they will be turned away at our shores.  Might that invitation cause some diplomatic pain, as we stand for the truth.  Sure.  But power always follows a willingness to experience pain, when that willingness is for the best of reasons.

I have no idea what Alan Gross experienced in prison in Cuba for five years.  Being locked up and kept from loved ones would be enough, but I suspect he suffered far more than even that.  He was imprisoned because he was identified as one who would not cower to an oppressive regime.  He was imprisoned because he wanted to make a difference in this world—bringing light to darkness.  And that’s why he’s this week’s Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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Your Story Doesn’t Have -30- Written Yet

When I worked at Newsweek magazine for a short time, then as a columnist for the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, I learned to type -30- at the end of any piece I had written and filed, in order to let the editor know that there was no further content—not another paragraph or disclaimer or diagram or photo credit—beyond that signoff.

It isn’t clear how the -30- tradition started, but there are plenty of theories.  Some suggest that early Roman writers ended their pieces with XXX (the Roman numeral, of course, for 30).  Another theory is that, during the Civil War, the first message sent to a press association by telegraph was 30 words in length and, therefore, the sender ended the message with that number—which stuck for all future communications to the press.

In any case, I have needed to remind myself more than once during my life, at moments of adversity, sometimes very late at night or very, very early in the morning, that God has written no -30- at the end of my life story.  And, since you are reading this blog, the same is true for you.  There’s more of your life story to come.  Many, many things can still happen.  Very good things.

Human beings know this, instinctively, even if we sometimes forget it when it comes to our own life stories.  No one walks out of a movie theater because the main character is in a jam or even in the midst of deep despair.  People look at their watches and think something like, “Hmm, there’s half an hour left, I wonder what will happen.”

I wonder.  Wonder is a terrific antidote to despair by the way.  If you encounter darkness, let yourself wonder how the light will dawn, again.  Remind yourself that you haven’t written -30- at the end of your story and that most anything can happen—including spectacular comebacks.

Pain, my Friends, is always about becoming more powerful.  Every single time.

ONward.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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Pain-2-Power, Stoicism, “The Obstacle is the Way,” and Covid-19

Stoics, like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca, asserted that virtue, in and of itself, was sufficient for happiness.  That is one reason stoics are resilient in the face of adversity; coping with hardship, showing character during hardship and even looking at hardship as a possible source of gifts are all part of the philosophy.

As we confront Covid-19, including the Delta variant currently causing so much hardship in so many places, we shouldn’t forget the Stoic (and Pain-2-Power) notion.  We can not only accept the challenges that Covid-19 poses, we can resolve to distinguish ourselves in confronting them.  We can resolve to demonstrate virtue in moving forward with our work, building our companies, defending our freedoms and helping on another, in myriad ways, through these rough times.

None of this is meant to minimize the grief experienced on the part of those who have lost or will lose loved ones.  None of it is meant to minimize the suffering of those who contract Covid.  It is meant only as a reminder that every adversity contains within it the seed of strength.

One other thing: Do not be surprised if, in confronting Covid with all our ingenuity as a species, we happen to find other sources of power. Whether any of us agrees or disagrees with using viral mRNA as an immunization against Covid, the undertaking of such a massive, unprecedented experiment could yield insights into how to treat other diseases—like cancer.

When the Universe or God delivers hardship and pain, never lose sight of the fact that new sources of power might be delivered right along with it.  The SEEING takes strength, of course.  And that’s the point.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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DR. BEN CARSON: THE PAIN-2-POWER PERSON OF THE WEEK

I am reminded, again, of why I supported Dr. Ben Carson when he ran for President of the United States and held a fundraiser for him at my home. Carson is the definition of Pain-2-Power.

Dr. Carson, who I first met when I was a student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is, of course, the legendary neurosurgeon who, back in 1987, separated 7-month old West German Siamese twins joined at the head.  The procedure lasted 22 hours, required Carson lead a surgical team of 70 individuals and involved a technique never before even tried:  reducing the body temperature of the twins to 68 degrees and stopping, which stopped their hearts and all blood flow.  The twins lived.  While understandably facing massive continuing neurological challenges, they returned home.  Then Carson performed the surgery four more times on other twins in the same predicament.

Carson grew up very poor and very angry in Detroit and found himself in the midst of street violence that could have ended his life or the life of others.  It got this bad:

In general I was a good kid. It usually took a lot to make me mad. But once I reached the boiling point, I lost all rational control. Totally without thinking, when my anger was aroused, I grabbed the nearest brick, rock, or stick to bash someone. It was as if I had no conscious will in the matter.

Ultimately, though, Carson wrestled his anger to the ground and used his pain to as fuel to find his power—which, lucky for lots of neurosurgical patients—turned out to be his remarkably gifted hands.

During his campaign for the 2016 Presidential election, Carson was the consummate gentleman.  His quiet, studied, enormously powerful intellect and empathy were mistaken for a lack of energy by too many voters, and we missed the chance to be led by a man who I believe would have achieved the status of Lincoln or Jefferson—a man who once said, “I was asked by an NPR reporter once why don’t I talk about race that often. I said, ‘It’s because I’m a neurosurgeon.’ And she thought that was a strange response … I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are.’”

Now, Ben Carson, who is, of course, black, is speaking out about the evils of Critical Race Theory, which asserts that white people are inherently racist and that the challenges black people face succeeding is due to their status as victims of whites.  He knows better.  He knows that there are many factors that determine the challenges that any individual encounters in life and that overcoming them depends chiefly on the decision to make the most of one’s life.  He doesn’t want people in pain in America to run from their adversities to embrace a victim mentality and leave it at that.  He wants them to stand firm, stand tall and make the most of themselves by, as I see it, turning their personal pain into their personal power.

Here’s one other Ben Carson quote:

You have the ability to choose which way you want to go. You have to believe great things are going to happen in your life. Do everything you can – prepare, pray and achieve – to make it happen.

If that isn’t true to Pain-2-Power Principles, I don’t know what could be.  And that is why Dr. Ben Carson is this week’s Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.

Dr. Keith Ablow

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